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Despite the synergine the Count’s eyes were going shocked and vague. He pawed at the little plastic oxygen mask, batted away the medic’s worried attempt to control his hands, and motioned urgently to Mark. He so clearly wanted to say something, it was less traumatic to let him than to try and stop him. Mark slid onto his knees by the Count’s head.
The Count whispered to Mark in a tone of earnest confidence, “All . . . true wealth . . . is biological.”
— Lois McMasters Bujold, Mirror Dance
Today, April 21, 2021, would have been my mother’s 91st birthday. I was supposed to be up at her place today, in the middle of a two-week visit.
It did not happen. She died in the morning of March 28, 2021, a few weeks shy of that birthday. I was by her side when she died, holding her hand. I don’t know if she was aware that I was holding it. She was asleep. One minute she was breathing. Then she stopped. Her heart finally gave out.
She knew I was there. I had arrived the previous day. She was awake when I arrived. I did not even unpack my bags. Instead, I went to her room. She recognized me, held my hand with a firm grip and we talked. She was glad to see me. While I was there my uncle called, my father’s brother. So did the husband of one of her daughters-in-law.
She told them both the same thing, “Don’t cry. No tears. I’ve led a blessed life, a wonderful life.” She was ready to go, ready to rejoin my father who had died three years earlier. She lived 67 of her years with him. The last three, without him were probably the loneliest of her life. Especially the last one –due to Covid. My brothers and I had planned a surprise 90th birthday party last April 21. It ended up being canceled due to Covid.
She was right about living a wonderful life. She was that rarest of things, an Ann Arbor, MI, native, born there, and never leaving the town except on vacation. She met her husband there, when he was an architecture student at the University of Michigan. They attended the same church.
She always claimed she had won him at a pinochle game at a church social function. (Apparently, the girls around her age played a round of cards to decide who would have the right to date him.) Whether the story is true or not, theirs was a true love match. Dad was smitten when they met and he navigated the Scylla of her parents and the Charybdis of a kid brother to win her hand.
Unlike many students, he never left Ann Arbor, choosing to remain because mom wanted to live there. Sometimes he had to commute distances to remain there, driving to the Detroit area and once to Toledo (a drive unremarkable in California or Texas, but unthinkable in Michigan).
She found work in Ann Arbor, a teacher in the Ann Arbor Public School System for over 30 years. This was back when a public school education was still a good one. She took pride in her work.
Along the way, the two of them had three sons. They in turn gave her eight grandchildren, six boys, and two girls. Today five of them are married, and three have children – a daughter each, so far.
Today none of them – sons, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren – live in Ann Arbor. Two of her sons five of her grandsons and two of her great-granddaughters are in Texas. My oldest brother is in Cincinnati. Only one granddaughter is in Michigan, now living in Ypsilanti with her husband and daughter. The other two grandkids are in Virginia and Massachusetts. The family center of gravity has moved south and west.
We received word that she was failing on March 25. We were told she was not expected to live past the weekend. My oldest brother and his wife were already there. My younger brother and I flew up on Saturday. So did my oldest son and my older brother’s oldest son. Both arrived in time to say goodbye in person. The rest, like my uncle, said their goodbyes through a Skype call. My older brother’s second son, with his wife, daughter, and mother-in-law drove up from Texas, arriving literally a few minutes after she died.
I think she hung on until all three of her sons were there. We took turns sitting up with her on her final night. She went to sleep shortly after my younger brother arrived, and never woke up.
We were all there for her funeral: sons and surviving spouses, all eight grandchildren and the spouses of those who are married and her three great-granddaughters. So was my uncle, the last surviving sibling of my parents’ generation, with his wife, as was my younger brother’s ex-wife and her husband, my mother’s niece and nephew and her family, plus the surviving and dwindling band of church ladies with which my mother had grown up. Possibly some of them had played that fabled pinochle game. A few others attended remotely due to distance and Covid.
The only ones who seemed really distressed at my mom’s passing seem to be the unbelievers among her relatives and friends. For those of us who believe in an afterlife, there is regret that she will no longer be there for us to share, not grief. She, like my father earlier, left the way she wanted to go. She had accomplished everything she had hoped to do, and she died in her own house and in her own bedroom, peacefully in her sleep, with those she loved most close at hand. And she has what she wanted most. She is reunited with my father. I hope I am as lucky at my passing.
Mom did very well financially. My brothers and get most of what she left, and what we each get is enough to leave us comfortable in our old age. Yet as Bujold observed in her quote mom’s real wealth was not monetary or in the possessions she had. It was in three sons, eight grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren. All three sons are successful, as are her grandchildren. All of her grandchildren are now adults, many have families of their own and all have good careers. Her great-grandchildren promise to be as successful as their parents.
The house will be sold, and the possessions scattered. The Ann Arbor anchor that held our family together since the fifties will be gone in a month. I – and my brothers – may never visit our home town again. But her descendants – and their descendants – remain and abide. All true wealth is biological.Published in